The controversy over whether a new PropTech service can be used by agents to charge people to view a property to let has taken a new twist.
The issue has been in the spotlight in recent weeks following the launch of a new PropTech platform called ViewRabbit which proposed charging would-be tenants and buyers £30 per viewing - or potentially even more - for a so-called “guaranteed viewing” which the agent or landlord could not cancel once it was booked.
Earlier this month the Chartered Trading Standards Institute told Letting Agent Today: “In principle, it is fine for sales viewings as long as agents and traders are transparent and upfront about any terms and conditions or charges applicable to payments and refunds. The business must not make any misleading statements or omissions as these are criminal offences.”
The CTSI continued: “Requiring a person to make a payment to view a property to rent is prohibited … Giving no option but to pay the fee is prohibited, but optional fees, like in this instance, are not prohibited.”
However, the CTSI has now issued updated guidance and has told us: “The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s statutory guidance states that charging for viewing a rental property is prohibited.”
And on sales, it has tweaked its original guidance. It now says: “Paid for viewings when purchasing a property are like any other service in that the consumer needs to be made aware of all material information before they can make their decision on whether or not to proceed. This information would include, but not be limited to, the cost of the service, how to obtain a refund and what service they will receive.
“The vendor should be made aware of any risks and obligations and understand any conditions to which they may be required to adhere, for example if the viewer is guaranteed that no offer will be accepted until all paid for viewings have been completed.
“All information should be clear and upfront, and the agent should take care to comply with rules around passing on of offers and discriminating against viewers who do not pay for priority viewings.”
It is unknown how many agents - if any - are actually attempting to charge for any viewings anyway, as ViewRabbit has given no details of companies that may have taken up its service.
You can see the original story about ViewRabbit from our sister publication Estate Agent Today here.
And this is the official MHCLG guidance referred to by Trading Standards, within the Tenant Fees Act 2019.